A Tiny, Giant Idea

See those little balls of excess donut batter below. Those are called, “Dunkin’ Munchkins.” If you grew up in the Northeast, this knowledge is as common as where the Old North Church is located and what position Carlton Fisk played for the Red Sox. And it can all be traced back to one guy — a fellow named Steve Cosmopulos. In addition to being somewhat notorious for his temperamental nature and absurd work hours (4 a.m. to 4 p.m.), Steve, the second “C” in Hill, Holiday, Connors, Cosmopulos, was revered as New England’s first true creative powerhouse.

Dunkin MunchkinsA couple weeks ago, I judged the 50th Anniversary of Boston’s Hatch Awards with him. At which point, I learned that I disagree with, well, pretty much all of Steve’s political viewpoints, but have tremendous respect for the dogged determination with which he built a number of brands, including Dunkin’ Donuts.

As Steve recalls, the way that Dunkin’ Munchkins came to be, was that in 1970, the agency was given the assignment of coming up with a new product. The only stipulation, they couldn’t use new materials or new machinery. Which kind of limits what you can do when all you’ve got left is batter and frosting. Steve noticed that there were a couple stores were selling donut holes made from the excess batter and immediately latched onto the idea. Within a matter of weeks, he and his team created and tested two commercials, one for Dunkin Donut Holes and the other for Dunkin’ Munchkins, in Harrisburg, PA and Portland, ME. The results were overwhelming: These little dough balls were not “holes,” they were “Munchkins.”

Why open my blog with the story of a guy who turned 83 yesterday? Well, because I maintain that the creation and naming of that Dunkin’ product is as big a business-building idea as any Facebook app or guerilla marketing stunt you’ll find online today. And that’s what I want this blog to be about — not just what’s new or cool, but what’s smart. And a product extension and naming idea that was powerful enough to endure forty years years of shelf life under harsh fluorescent lighting seems like a pretty good place to start.

Dunkin Munchins

8 thoughts on “A Tiny, Giant Idea

  1. Geez, I had no idea that Mason Reese was associated with Dunkin Munchkins. Makes sense. I remember, as a teen, always wondering why he was a guest on the Merv Griffin show (wasn’t he some kind of prodigy?) and then, going to clubs in NYC and seeing him out, partying and stoned out his mind and thinking… this gnomish little dude is certainly making the most of his 15 minutes

  2. Boston! I miss it, a great town with some fantastic ad agencies over the years. The impact a name can have on a product is amazing. Frankly, I’m more astounded a client asked an agency for product-development advice. I wonder if there’s a way for agencies to compel clients to bring them into the funnel earlier. Help clients create products as dramatic/humorous/entertaining as some of the advertising out there.

  3. Cool to hear about the history of such an amazingly New England product and fantastic business idea. Curious…did the Wizard of Oz own the name Munchkin, or was that before intellectual property got more litigious, or did they work out a deal? Love stories like this. Keep ‘em coming.

  4. Steve noticed that there were a couple stores were selling donut holes made from the excess batter and immediately latched onto the idea.

    Hey Court, great job on the new blog. You may want to lose one of the two instances of the word “were” in the sentence above tho. Thanks for the mention in the work section. It’s a real honor to be included.
    <3 love.

  5. At breakfast with Monte Factor, yesterday, he told me you wrote about him on your blog. I can’t find it and want to! Please send me your comments about my dear friend Monte. thanks, Joan Goldsmith

  6. My brother says he and his co-workers used to eat the holes while making the donuts and then they decided to sell them. One of the corporate guys saw it and took over. Will we ever know the whole story?

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